Fame by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Fame…Song #24/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

One of the great truisms of being an educator is that the students under your care are all unique individuals. They enter into your classroom with varied life experiences, states of intellectual readiness and physical health, minds and hearts filled with hopes and dreams that are theirs alone and, of course, you have those who don’t want to be there at all and would rather still be tucked safely and warmly in their beds. As a teacher, I always built my programme around the fact that I shouldn’t expect all of my students to learn the curriculum in the exact same manner nor at the exact same speed. I had to find ways to help each child to be successful on their own terms. So, each school year, I tasked myself with creating 20-30 individualized academic programmes of instruction and ran them in a collective social setting. What made this easier for me is that, in reality, in any classroom setting the majority of the students fall into a fairly broad band of academic achievement that roughly translates to being in “the middle”. These would be the students who traditionally earned “B”s and “C”s on their report card. While there would be slight variations between these students, most were successful most of the time and were on course to successfully meet the requirements for that particular grade level. At the opposite end of those students who were in “the middle” were those students who struggled mightily and those students at the top end who excelled. While educators often spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about how to help those students who are struggling, that will not be the topic of today’s post. Instead, for a change, we are going to focus on the needs of those kids who excel.

Photo of a young Scarlett Johansson when she was a student at the Professional Children's School in New York City.
Actress Scarlett Johansson when she was enrolled at the Professional Children’s School in NYC.

Despite how it may seem, it isn’t always easy to be an academic rock star in a regular classroom setting. One of the main reasons for that is simply boredom. When you possess tremendous skills and knowledge, it can become frustrating to always have to be waiting for your peers to catch up to where you got to a long time ago. In the public school system where I was a teacher, students who excelled at a tremendous rate could be tested for academic giftedness. If the testing process revealed that a student was, in fact, functioning at a gifted level then, a whole host of additional programming options could, in theory, be made available to that child. In other countries, there are whole schools established with the sole mandate of helping children who have displayed giftedness in The Arts or in Athletics, for example. Today’s post begins at one such school in the US called The Professional Children’s School. This school was established in New York City in 1914. It was run for the benefit of children who worked professionally in some facet of the entertainment industry in New York. A quick look at the names of some of those who have graduated from the PCS is to read a veritable Who’s-Who of the entertainment world. Professional Children’s School alumni include Yo-Yo Ma, Beverly Sills, Marvin Hamlisch, Buddy Rich, Vanessa Carlton, Milton Berle, Peggy Lipton, Lorna Luft, Macaulay Culkin, Carrie Fisher, Elliott Gould, Scarlett Johansson and many, many more, including a young singer and dancer named Irene Cara.

Head shot of actress Irene Cara smiling.
Irene Cara.

Irene Cara was enrolled in the Children’s Professional School in the 1970s. While a student there (and then later upon graduation), Cara earned roles in many Broadway plays and musicals and had some small supporting roles in soap operas and television serials. In 1979, Cara showed up to try out as an extra for a new movie that was inspired by the musical, A Chorus Line. This movie was centred upon a group of young people in a school for the arts who were all trying to break into the world of show business. When Cara performed her audition for a role as an extra, the producers were blown away by her singing voice and by her onscreen presence. In fact, the producers of Fame ended up creating an entirely new character for the movie named Coco Hernandez and gave the role to Irene Cara. Not only that, they had Cara sing the title track to the movie. The song called “Fame….I’m Gonna Live Forever” announced Irene Cara’s arrival as a star! The movie, Fame, became a huge box office hit. Cara won the first of her two Academy Awards for Best Song. She would win her second Oscar shortly thereafter for the song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling!”. Not long after Fame ended its theatrical run, word came out that the story being told in the movie was going to be continued in a television series. Many of the original movie cast signed on to reprise their roles on the small screen. Many assumed that Irene Cara would do so as well, but she declined that opportunity and her role was given to a new actress. Cara justified her decision to turn her back on the role of Coco Hernandez by saying that she believed that many other movie roles awaited her in Hollywood and that she didn’t want to become typecast as Coco just as her career was beginning.

The television version of Fame enjoyed a few seasons of success on network TV before being canceled. Meanwhile, Irene Cara had teamed up with music producer Giorgio Moroder to write the hit song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling!” for the movie of the same name that starred Jennifer Beals as a wannabe dancer searching for her big break. Around the same time, Cara starred in a sequel to the television mini-series, Roots called Roots: the Next Generation. Irene Cara received a Golden Globes nomination for her role as author Alex Haley’s grandmother in this continuing saga. As the 1980s reached their midway point, Irene Cara was one of the brightest names in the entire world of the entertainment industry. And then, it all went away for her.

Movie poster for Fame.Top half shows the word, FAME in lights. The bottom half of the poster shows students rehearsing on a stage.

Another one of life’s truisms is that history is told by the victors and not the vanquished. It is difficult for me to say with any certainty exactly what happened to cause the downfall of Irene Cara’s career but some facts are known and I will share them with you now. As Irene Cara became a bigger and bigger star, she began to receive career advice from other people who were stars in the world of music and television. Those people were becoming concerned about how Irene Cara was being managed by her management team. Specifically, they advised Cara to have independent lawyers look into the terms of her management contract because they felt she was being denied royalties to her music that were rightfully hers. With hit songs such as “Fame” and “Flashdance” under her belt, Irene Cara should have been earning enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle. But, the fact was that she was continuing to live paycheque to paycheque. So, Irene Cara hired new lawyers and soon launched a lawsuit against her own management team in an attempt to recoup lost royalties she felt she was owed. Because Cara had little money of her own to begin with, her management team countered with a succession of lawsuits that essentially bankrupted Cara. The lawsuits dragged on for over a decade. By the time the dust settled, Cara had won a settlement of 1.5 million dollars. Not long after the decision of the court was issued, her management team declared bankruptcy itself. This caused Cara to have to begin new lawsuits aimed at recouping a fraction of that settlement, with her as a creditor. All throughout the time she was engaged in her legal battles, Cara began finding it harder and harder to get work in the entertainment industry. She claimed that her management team had placed her name on a blacklist that prohibited others from hiring her. Her former management team denied this and countered her claim by stating that Irene Cara had always had a reputation for being difficult to work with, and on top of that had become addicted to cocaine and was, in fact, the author of her own misfortune, and that it all had nothing to do with them. What the real story is, I cannot say but, the reality was that toward the end of her career, Irene Cara’s only source of income was from doing voice-over work for commercials and for animated movies. As many of you may know, Irene Cara passed away recently at age 63. The exact cause of her death is unknown.

Facade of The Professional Children's School in New York City. Banners with the school name hang down over the sidewalk.
The Professional Children’s School in NYC.

One of the things that I learned from being a teacher was that ensuring the academic success of my students was only one part of my role in their lives. The physical, social and emotional health of my students was of equal importance and required just as much attention from me as did all of the ABCs and 1-2-3s of the world. I have often felt sorry for young performers such as Irene Cara, Macaulay Culkin, Michael Jackson and others who achieved great fame at a very early age. It must be tough to bear the weight of the responsibility for million dollar entertainment franchises when you are still so young that you don’t even really know who you are as a person yet. One of the goals of The Professional Children’s School was to provide counseling services for their students to help them deal with the pressure that comes from being so famous at such a young age. That such services are necessary speaks to the cutthroat nature of the world in which Irene Cara found herself as she left her teens and entered her twenties. To protect such children from ruthless promoters was one of the reasons that The Professional Children’s School was started over a century ago and why it still exists today. At the end of the day, it can’t be easy to be gifted with such talent. Somewhere along the way, balance becomes equally as important as ambition and intellect and creativity and talent. Irene Cara’s story stands as a cautionary tale, not only for those with exceptional talent but also, for those who surround them. It is important to strive for greatness, for sure but, it is also important to love and be loved for that is the true path to happiness.

The link to the video for the song “Fame…I’m Gonna Live Forever” by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Fame can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the song, “Flashdance…What a Feeling” by Irene Cara from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film Flashdance can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Fame can be found here.

The link to the official website for Irene Cara can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Professional Children’s School can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch…Song #18/250: Reader’s Choice

One of the most successful and heavily promoted music groups of the 1980s was a boy band known as New Kids on the Block. They had a string of hits such as “Hanging Tough”, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”, “I’ll Be Loving You Forever”, “Cover Girl” and many more. The five original members of NKOTB all hailed from the Boston area (which will become important as this story rolls along). One of those original guys in the band was named Donnie Wahlberg. He had a younger brother named Mark. This is where the story of today’s post begins.

The Wahlberg brothers grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which is a suburb of Boston. Dorchester used to be a city unto itself but was incorporated into the municipality of Boston proper. Initially, Dorchester was a mainly white community founded by Puritans who arrived from England and Ireland centuries ago. However, after amalgamation, Dorchester saw an influx of immigrants arrive, making it one of the most diverse cities along America’s eastern seaboard today. Like many in the Boston area, the Wahlbergs identified with Irish heritage (which at the time for a teenage boy like Mark Wahlberg meant white culture). You don’t have to look very hard in Boston to find indicators of Irish culture. (The Boston Celtic basketball team, bands such as The Dropkick Murphys…my favourite faux Irish band, etc…, are everywhere you go.) So, when Donnie Wahlberg suddenly became a huge music star with New Kids on the Block, it gave his little brother, Mark, a larger sense of self-importance than most boys his age have earned the right to have. With his ego large, young Mark Wahlberg turned to crime. Specifically, he was charged with several violent, racially-motivated crimes against Black and Asian families who had recently moved into the Dorchester area. In fact, one assault was so serious that Mark Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder (which ended up being plea-bargained down to felony assault, for which Wahlberg served time in jail as a young man).

Mary Mark and the Funky Bunch. Note the “Irish” green.

After having completed his sentence, Mark Wahlberg faced an uncertain future. The one thing he had going for him was that he was handsome and strong…and he had a brother who was a music star. Mark worked with Donnie and with his brother’s management team to see if he had the talent to follow in his brother’s footsteps. As it turned out, Mark Wahlberg wanted to try rapping (after seeing the success of Vanilla Ice). With the help of Donnie and some DJs who were skilled in the emerging art of sampling, Mark Wahlberg organized them all into a band that went by the name Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Their first album was called Music for the People. The first single was called “Good Vibrations”. This song went all the way to #1 on the charts and stayed in the Top 40 for almost a full year! The highlight of the song for many was the combination of some stellar piano playing, Mark Wahlberg’s rapping and the soaring vocal sample taken from a lady named Loleatta Holloway (who was given a co-songwriting credit because of the sample, even though she never recorded a single note for the song). Despite the fact that this song reached the top of the charts, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch were never able to replicate its success, and so “Good Vibrations” can really be considered their only true hit.

Mark Wahlberg’s iconic Calvin Klein ad. He is 21 years old in this photo.

While the song certainly possesses a funked up groove, it was really the accompanying music video that took Mark Wahlberg straight to the top. In the video for “Good Vibrations”, Wahlberg appears shirtless for most of it. At the time, Mark Wahlberg possessed a physique that was toned and chiseled. His body and his tough guy image that he projected set many hearts a flutter. Sex appeal has long been known to sell merchandise and this was certainly the case with Marky Mark. As a result of the overwhelmingly positive reception his six pack abs received as a result of this video, Wahlberg was signed to be a Calvin Klein underwear model. In the end, he became as famous for appearing in his underwear on billboards (alone or with model Kate Moss) as he ever did as a singer. Many others wondered how they could get themselves into the same physical shape that he managed to do and so he was approached to put together exercise videos. The story of his fitness regimes is more important than many casual fans realize and impacted his career for years thereafter.

Mark Wahlberg and “Irish” Micky Ward at the premiere of the movie, The Fighter.

When Mark and Donnie Wahlberg were putting together the music for “Good Vibrations”, there existed a famous boxer from nearby Lowell, Massachusetts, called “Irish” Micky Ward. Ward fought several times for the Lightweight title and is most known for a trilogy of matches against Montreal’s own Arturo “Thunder” Gatti. Ward won the initial match against Gatti while losing the rematch and tie breaker. However, many who watch boxing will tell you that those three matches were among the best boxing matches of all time, and that both boxers earned their sterling reputations in the ring during those bouts against the other. In fact, two of those three matches ended up being ranked as “The Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine. So, when the Irish-influenced kid, Mark Wahlberg, decided that he needed training in the art of boxing for his video for “Good Vibrations”, he turned to “Irish” Micky Ward. It was because of Ward’s training that Wahlberg developed his chiseled physique and authentic boxing moves. But there is more to the story than that. As many of you know, Mark Wahlberg left the music business and went into acting after his modeling days came to an end. He gained fame in movies such as Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm and Planet of the Apes. My daughters know him best from a series of movies called Daddy’s Home (with Will Ferrell). But the movie that Wahlberg is most closely associated with was a movie that earned him many awards and nominations called The Fighter. This movie is the biopic based on the life of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward. In fact, there are many Irish connections at play here…Canada’s favourite faux-Irish band, The Mahones *(who were profiled last week in a post that you can read here) contributed a song to the soundtrack of The Fighter called “Paint the Town Red”. It is the band’s biggest hit. As well, Boston’s own The Dropkick Murphys’ most successful album was called The Warrior’s Code. The title track was a song dedicated to “Irish” Micky Ward, who also graces the album’s front cover. *(You can watch that video here).

Mark Wahlberg, like so many of us, is certainly a product of his environment. He grew up Irish-proud and immigrant-phobic but, over time, he has become able to embrace the positive side of his cultural roots without doing so by downgrading the right to cultural pride by groups who differ from himself. Not knowing the man personally, I cannot say for sure whether that is truly the person he has become or whether it is because of his understanding of how to project an image in the public spotlight. But what I can say for sure is that he has managed to create several onscreen characters that the people in my family like, and in particular, he has created one funky song that really appeals to my wife. So, I dedicate this post to my beautiful wife, Keri. I hope that it brings a smile to your face and a skip to your step. Thanks for being the driving force in our home for bringing the music of boy bands to the forefront. I know that you had New Kids on the Block posters on your bedroom walls growing up so this is something that makes you a product of your environment as well. As boy band songs go, “Good Vibrations” is one that even I can listen to and appreciate. Thanks for being you, dear.

***As a reminder, I take requests. Any genre. Any era. Send me your song/artist/band suggestions and I will do whatever I can to bring those stories to life in a post just like this one. Feel free to leave your requests in the comment box below. Thanks.

The link to the video for the song “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The official website for Mark Wahlberg can be found here.

The trailer for the movie, The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Slow Ride by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Dazed and Confused…Song #23/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

At the time of writing this post, I have two daughters who are both in their teenage years. All throughout their lives, they have been encouraged to ask my wife and I about anything that is on their minds. We have always believed that having open communication channels is important between parents and children. We want our girls to feel comfortable talking with us. I believe that they are comfortable talking to us because they are always asking us questions. “Where did you and Dad meet?” “Where did you go on your first date with your first boyfriend/girlfriend?” “What jobs did you have when you were a teenager?” And on and on it goes. Their questions always seem to match their own experiences at the time. But one of the questions that I have the most trouble answering is one of the most basic of them all…”What was high school like for you, Dad?”

The fact of the matter is that I can’t remember all that much about my high school years in specific terms. What I do remember is the more general feeling of doing not much of anything at all. I hung around a lot with my friends. That was really it. I sat for hours in school hallways with my back against a locker as kids copied my homework and we talked about what was on TV the previous night or who was having a party soon. I went downtown on Friday nights and hung around the main street in town with the other kids, leaning against telephone poles or else sitting on the stone fence that fronted St. Paul’s Church, listening to the sounds of Trooper and April Wine blasting from car stereos as guys drove round and round in a loop through town. Sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we would travel to the mall and play video games at the arcade, stopping for a burger before heading home. But, truth be told, nothing out of the ordinary happened at all during my high school years. In fact, if anything, the feeling I had was that I was like a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. So, for me, high school was a time spent preparing to leave Glace Bay. To answer my daughters’ question, what I remember most about my highschool years was simply putting in time in the belief that there was something better somewhere else. I had no real idea at the time what that “something better” might be but I knew for sure that it wasn’t going to be found there in Glace Bay.

There have been a lot of movies made about life as a teenager. However, there have been very few that seemed able to replicate that feeling of nothingness that I experienced as a teen. None of us went on secret spy missions. No one found treasure. None of my classmates were secretly vampires or monsters who revealed themselves when the moon was full. There were no UFOs or celebrity encounters or riots or anything. There were drugs for some, alcohol for others, fights for a few and sex for many but none of that for me. I abstained from it all, not because I felt above it, but more because I was simply too introverted and nerdy to be invited to partake or to force my way in. So, I hung out. I was a friendly nerd among jocks and cool kids and tough guys and fashionista girls. That was high school for me. One of the very few movies I have ever seen that captured what that sort of high school experience was like was Dazed and Confused.

Milla Jovovich was just one of many young stars who got their start in Dazed and Confused.

Dazed and Confused was directed by Richard Linklater. It was his first feature film. Dazed and Confused was set in the 1970s in a small nameless Texas town on the last day of high school. It starred a bevy of young actors who would go on to become big stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger, Adam Goldberg and a host of others. The storyline revolved around one teen…the captain of the football team…who has been recruited to play at a prestigious college, which makes the whole town feel a sense of pride as they take his accomplishment as reflecting on them all. As part of his recruitment, he is asked to sign a pledge of good conduct by the end of his high school year. This pledge includes a promise to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol. So, as Johnny football hero deals with the peer pressure from his town and ponders whether or not to sign away his freedom to live as he pleases in return to gridiron glory, the rest of his graduating class prepares for their last day in the safety net that high school provides. They all know that when tomorrow comes, they will no longer be high school kids but will, in fact, be part of the real world. Dazed and Confused follows this band of jocks, cool kids, misfits, stoners and lovers during the entirety of those final twenty-four hours, as each faces the prospect that the future is there now, knocking at the proverbial door. There is not a lot to the plot of this movie, just as there was not a lot to the real life experience of being in high school for me. These kids hang around a lot and talk a lot. They start the day at school and end the day at a party in a park. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They make out. But, most of all, they simply are who they are, all together, one last time. The movie has a really great soundtrack that is filled with many of the top classic rock tunes of the 1970s. The reason I chose “Slow Ride” by Foghat as the song for this post is because that song is the soundtrack to the closing scene in the film. In that scene we learn what Johnny football hero has decided to do, as he drives away with a few of his closest friends down a road that leads off into the future. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen the film, but the choice of a song like “Slow Ride” was purposeful by director Linklater and speaks to the nature of life being a journey, rather than a destination.

A very young Matthew McConaughey in character.

Even if you haven’t seen Dazed and Confused for yourself, you may be aware of the famous catch phrase uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s character. McConaughey plays a character who has graduated a few years prior and has chosen to still keep hanging around the high school scene as if he has never left and gotten on with life. He spends the movie doling out advice about the real world that he feels is wisdom. At one point, he says, “Alright! Alright! Alright!” in his slight Texan drawl that McConaughey has become famous for. That catch phrase has been associated with him throughout the remainder of his career. He even ended his acceptance speech with it when he won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie Dallas Buyers Club. That iconic line came from Dazed and Confused. ***FYI, if you haven’t heard this speech, it is one of the better Oscar speeches ever given. McConaughey did a super job. You can watch and listen to it here.

If my two daughters end up reading this post, then I am sorry that your Dad wasn’t a more exciting person when I was your age. But the truth is that, unlike the movies, in my real high school experiences, I never once snorted cocaine off of the stomach of a bikini-clad Paris Hilton lookalike while poolside, nor did I battle aliens or develop a computer programme that almost started a nuclear war or build a robot sex slave in my basement. What I did was watch a lot of television. I hung out with friends doing nothing in particular. I listened to tunes on my headphones in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed. I vacationed with my family. I was a nerd. I was liked by many but loved by no one. I got through it all. And so will you. Real life isn’t often like it is portrayed in the movies…unless it is like it is portrayed in a movie like Dazed and Confused.

The link to the video for the song “Slow Ride” by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Dazed and Confused can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Dazed and Confused can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Tomorrow’s Top 40: Maggie Rogers, Prince, Mary J. Blige and Elvis Presley, too.

Here are some of the bands and artists who are making news with new releases this week:

Horses by Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers.

Maggie Rogers is one of the most interesting young people in music today. She was the subject of a viral video that was uploaded during the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic, and as such, she became well known to thousands of folks without having released an album or performed on a tour. Maggie’s story goes a little like this…as a child, she was a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. As she entered high school, more musical opportunities presented themselves so she became involved in school choirs and theatre productions. But, in addition to that, Rogers used her high school years to learn about music production and sound engineering. As high school ended, Maggie Rogers recorded a series of songs that would end up becoming her debut album in a couple of years. In the meantime, she used those completed songs as her application to New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Needless to say, she was accepted into the programme. One of her professors there was star singer, Pharrell. (You might know Pharrell from the song “Happy”). In any case, in Pharrell’s class, the students there were tasked with writing, arranging, performing and producing an original song. The viral video that swept the Internet was one in which it was Maggie Rogers’ turn to present in class. In the video, she sits beside Pharrell at the front of the class. They conduct a brief interview so that Pharrell can get a sense of where the upcoming song got its roots, and then her song is played. The song is called “Alaska” and was written about an Outward Bound-type leadership camp she attended in Alaska as a teenager. Pharrell is a seasoned professional and yet, when he listened to “Alaska”, he was visibly moved. When it came time for him to critique her work, he was momentarily at a loss for words. When he did speak, he ended up telling Rogers that he had never encountered anyone like her and that she was completely unique as far as her vision of herself and her music was concerned. As for her skills, he compared her to the genius of Stevie Wonder. No one who watches this video feels that he was just blowing smoke with his comments. They all appeared to be genuinely offered. (I encourage you to stop and watch this video before going on. It is a star turn happening in real time and is really something to see. You can watch the video here).

Not long after graduating from The Institute, a bidding war erupted between record labels. But, just to show you how grounded this young lady was, she formed her own label before signing with anyone else. Her condition for signing with a major label was that all of her music had to first come through her own label so that she could control the content and direction of her career. The only role a major label would play was promotion and distribution of her finished product. A bidding war ensued anyway. Her first album was released. It was called Heard it in a Past Life which earned her a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. After the whirlwind ride that came with touring to support her debut songs, Maggie Rogers stepped away from the spotlight and went to divinity school at Harvard. She moved to Maine and lived by the sea. So, while learning about God and exposing herself to the salt air on the east coast, Maggie Rogers came up with the inspiration for new songs that comprise her album called Surrender. The lead single from this album is called “Horses”. This young lady sure can sing! She has a Folk background but “Horses” allows her to stretch her vocal range a bit, giving her a Country-Rock feel. But, what pipes! Wow! “Horses” was written after Rogers witnessed a herd of wild horses in the mountains. In the song, she admires the freedom these horses seem to have and asks a lover/friend if they have the courage to join her in a quest to be just like those horses. Quite the song. Quite the singer.

***Here is Maggie Rogers with “Horses”. The lyrics version of “Horses” can be found here.

Between the likes of Maggie Rogers, Phoebe Bridgers, Lorde, Aurora, Arlo Parks and Brandi Carlile, there is as strong a contingent of ultra-talented female artists performing today as there has been in quite a while. I wish that radio programmers would reflect this more in their offerings. As much as I enjoy hearing Fleetwood Mac-era Stevie Nicks, the 1980s Tina Turner and Annie Lennox and the twenty-year-old songs of Katy Perry and P!nk, I would prefer, just as much, to cycle in some of these modern female performers, too. They are the present and they are the future of music. Let’s give them the air time they deserve, as well.

Holiday Offerings:

Just in time for the holiday gift-giving season, we have the following three offerings for your consideration:

Prince and the Revolution: Live.

Prince and the Revolution circa 1985.

There are many people who go on and on about Bruce Springsteen and what a task master he is and how his penchant for perfection helped to craft some of the most legendary live performances in rock history. The same assessment can easily apply to Minnesota’s own Prince. Like Springsteen, Prince was very much in charge of all aspects of his music; everything from songwriting, to studio production, as well as to concert performance. He was a stickler for details and he demanded complete obedience by everyone involved in the performance of his music. Again, like Springsteen and Rock, Prince was able to create some of the greatest Funk-inspired music of the 1980s. With a string of hits such as “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, “1999”, “Raspberry Beret” and many more, Prince was one of the most prolific musical forces of his time.

Prince and the Revolution: Live captures him at his fiercest and funkiest. After touring for two years in support of the Purple Rain album and movie, Prince was growing restless. He had other musical ideas that he wanted to explore but he was beginning to feel trapped in the past, only being able to play his hits. So, while on a world tour, Prince suddenly announced that the tour was ending and that this particular show in Syracuse, New York at the Carrier Dome, would be their final stop. Because it was to be the last time Prince was to perform the songs that made up the first half of his career, he wanted the show to be one for the ages. So, he arranged for it to be broadcast live across Europe and to be recorded for national distribution in the US and so it was. This concert was first released as a video tape in the late 1980s. It was updated and re-sold as a CD a decade or so later. Finally, it has been digitally remastered, visually and audio-wise, and is being re-released again in 2022. So, if you have never witnessed a musical genius at the height of his powers, you now can. This is two hours of Prince and his band, the Revolution, absolutely ripping it up! If you like Prince even in the slightest, then Prince and the Revolution: Live is a must-have for your collection.

***Here is how the concert began with “Let’s Go Crazy!”. The lyrics version is here.

The Elvis Movie Soundtrack

As you may know, director Baz Lurhman released a movie this past summer that walked, bopped and rolled us through the life story of the King of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. I was very pleased that Lurhman included references to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton who inspired Elvis and so many other white musicians. In any case, there were 36 songs included throughout the movie. Most of these songs were original Elvis recordings, but many others were mash-ups, or else they were original songs by others such as Thornton or Tharpe. Well, the entire soundtrack is available for download or for purchase as a CD. Today’s music lovers will purchase this collection because of the inclusion of modern singers such as Doja Cat, Diplo, Swae Lee, Kacey Musgraves and Eminem. More seasoned Elvis fans will, no doubt, appreciate the King’s older, original tunes. In either case, Baz Lurhman presents the best of both worlds for Elvis fans. In reply, all I can say to Mr. Lurhman is…come on, say it with me…thank you…thank you very much! 🙂

***Here is Elvis with “In The Ghetto”. The lyrics version is here.

Amazing by Mary J. Blige ft. DJ Khaled

Mary J. Blige and DJ Khaled from the video for “Amazing”.

“Amazing” is the first single off of a new album by Mary J. Blige called Good Morning Gorgeous. This is the first new album of original material from the Godmother of Hip Hop Soul in several years. Just to put this event into some context for you…Mary J. Blige is revered in the Soul and Hip Hop communities. She has dozens of Grammy, Billboard and other awards for her music. Her career has spanned over three decades now and places her firmly in the company of such foundational members of the world of Hip Hop as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Eminem and others of their ilk. As Mary J. Blige has matured in years, she has branched out into the acting world. She has enjoyed much success in roles based upon real people such as Jazz singer Dinah Washington in the movie Aretha, and as Florence Jackson in the historical drama, Mudbound, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Good Morning Gorgeous is a return to her musical roots. It is an album filled with songs that reflect her status as a strong, black, female role model who has earned the respect that comes with such a stellar career. The song “Amazing” features rising star DJ Khaled in a supportive role, but, as the music video clearly shows, the song is all about the feeling of happiness and fulfillment that comes from enjoying success that was earned by staying true to your principles. The song has an excellent throbbing bassline, as one would expect from Mary J. Blige. Just as a personal aside, I find the official video to be visually distracting and prefer the lyrics version. All in all, this is a grand return to form from one of Hip Hop and Soul’s leading ladies. Enjoy.

***The video for “Amazing” is here. The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for Maggie Rogers can be found here.

The link to the official website for Prince can be found here.

The link to the video for the movie Elvis can be found here.

The link to the official website for Mary J. Blige can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post is to be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Opening Theme: Schindler’s List by John Williams…Song #21/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen.

The country of Israel is known as the homeland of those with Jewish ancestry. The creation of Israel was one of the political consequences of World War II. After suffering through the Holocaust, it was determined, going forward, that all people of Jewish ancestry needed a safe haven to return to in times of trouble. As many Jewish people experienced during the War, being Jewish in a foreign land was often a precarious position to be in. As many Jewish citizens attempted to flee in the face of German policies that placed their very lives at risk, there were many countries that refused them entry for political and religious reasons. Thus, when WWII ended, those Jewish people who had survived banded together and swore to never again be cast adrift on the world’s stage. So, the country of Israel was created to be the Jewish Homeland for ever more. ***Of course, politics and history being what they are, how the State of Israel came to be is not as black & white as I am making it out to be. Its creation is multi-hued, to say the least. But, for the sake of contextualizing today’s musical selection, the essential facts are important to know so I have presented them as such.

The Holocaust, or “Final Solution”, was a formal policy devised and implemented by members of the Nazi Party of Germany during the 1930s and into the 40s. The aim of the Holocaust was to remove all people of Jewish ancestry from Europe. The policy was carried out with tremendous efficiency. Starting in Germany, itself, and then spreading out to all countries that were conquered by the German Armed Forces during the War, the Holocaust was a cold, highly-organized administrative effort that saw laws enacted that limited the rights of Jewish people to work, attend school and to own property. They were even required to be seen in public wearing identifying yellow stars. As the lives of Jewish citizens were increasingly restricted, they were soon rounded up by military officers/police and placed in certain small, confined areas where they could be monitored. Their former homes, businesses and possessions were looted and then sold to others who were officially approved by the German government. Those Jewish citizens who were forced into these confined areas were then shipped by trains to work camps erected by the Germans. In some cases, these camps were used strictly for extermination purposes. In other cases, the Jewish people who ended up there became slave labourers who produced goods needed by the German war machine. By the time WWII ended, it was revealed that over six million people of Jewish ancestry had been killed in the Holocaust. As the scale of the atrocity was first being reported, many found the news difficult to believe. How could murder occur on such a vast scale, seemingly under the watchful eyes of the world?! Well, since that time, the stories of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust have been told in the hope that by doing so, we may be better able to prevent such cruelty from manifesting itself again. In the words of the survivors, the world must never forget.

Oskar Schindler.

Amid the great cruelty, there were moments of great courage and sacrifice. One such story that seemed to stand out from the horror was the case of German industrialist Oskar Schindler. The short strokes of his story are that after the German Blitzkrieg had rolled through Poland and the “Final Solution” had begun to be implemented as official policy there, many German profiteers appeared on the scene to scoop up the spoils of war for themselves at a reduced price. One of those profiteers was a small-time industrialist known as Oskar Schindler. Schindler was no saint when he first arrived in Poland. In fact, one of the very first things he did upon arrival in Krakow, Poland was to bribe his way into Krakow and commandeer a factory for his own purposes and profit. The factory he appropriated was one that made enamel products. As Schindler moved into the factory, it came to his attention that some of the employees that he was going to need to effectively manage it were, in fact, Jewish. This was particularly true of a man named Stern, who was the bookkeeper. Using money as bribes, Schindler was able to pay off the German officers in charge of Krakow so that they would leave his Jewish employees alone. Just as all of this was happening, the new local German officer in charge of Krakow, Amon Goth, was charged with rounding up all of the Jewish citizens of Krakow and placing them in a holding area that became known as the Krakow Ghetto. From there, these citizens would be shipped to a new work camp that Goth was in charge of building. The purpose of this camp was the killing of Poland’s Jewish people. Needless to say, there was much chaos and cruelty on display during the process of rounding up the Jewish citizens of Krakow, which was a fairly large city to begin with. As panic took hold of Krakow’s Jewish community, many learned of Mr. Schindler and how he had protected his Jewish employees through bribes. Suddenly, those seeking protection began showing up at Schindler’s factory begging to be allowed in. Before too long, the list of those deemed as “essential employees for the war effort” grew and grew. Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper, managed the list. As one can imagine, that list became the difference between living and dying for over one thousand Jewish citizens of Krakow, Poland. No one knows the exact moment that caused Oskar Schindler, Nazi Party member, to change from a war profiteer to a humanitarian and saviour but that transition did happen. It even went so far that when German officer Goth built his new extermination camp, Schindler asked to move his factory nearby so as to have access to “more labour” (when, in fact, he was trying to shield Jewish people right up until the end when the camp was liberated by Russian troops in 1945. The Jewish people whose lives were spared because their names appeared on Mr. Schindler’s list became known as the Schindlerjuden or “Schindler’s Jews”.

Director Steven Spielberg.

In 1962, in the spirit of “Never Forget”, one of the Schindlerjuden decided that Oskar Schindler was a hero and that his story needed to be shared with the world. A man named Poldek Pfefferberg made it his mission to get Schindler’s story published. Finally, in 1982, a novel was written by an Australian writer named Thomas Keneally called Schindler’s Ark. It was based upon Pfefferberg’s story of his time with Oskar Schindler. A few years after that, a review of Keneally’s book was given to director Steven Spielberg to read in the hopes of turning it into a movie. At first, Spielberg, who is Jewish, felt overwhelmed by the cultural importance of such a story and was reluctant to touch it. He tried to get several other directors to take the project on (such as Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski), but each declined for a variety of personal and professional reasons. Eventually he agreed to helm the project but only if it could be filmed as more of a documentary than a feature film. The movie was shot on location in Poland and used all German and Polish actors as the extras for the film. Spielberg filmed the movie in black and white to give it a historical feel. Most scenes were filmed with hand-held cameras, too. A then relatively-unknown actor named Liam Neeson was hired to play the role of Oskar Schindler. Ben Kingsley, of Gandhi fame, was hired to play Mr. Stern, the bookkeeper. Ralph Fiennes was cast as the ruthless German officer, Amon Goth. Schindler’s List went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, for Spielberg.

Composer John Williams.

Through it all, Spielberg has stated that the experience of making this movie was like no other, and that he required counseling and much emotional support in order to merely complete his task of finishing the movie. Many of those who worked as extras and as crew members relate similar tales of how devastatingly emotional it was to make this movie. One of the most important people who was asked to become involved in this project was somebody who didn’t appear on screen for a single second…it was Academy Award winning musical composer and film scorer extraordinaire, John Williams. As you may know, Williams shot to fame as the composer of the highly successful Star Wars series of films. When Spielberg first showed Williams the initial scenes that he had shot, Williams turned Spielberg down, saying that this movie required a better composer than he was. To which Spielberg replied that he agreed with Williams but that Mozart and Beethoven were already dead, so Williams was the next best choice he had. For the opening theme, Williams contacted renowned violinist and cellist, Itzhak Perlman. It is Perlman who captured the essence of this story by playing notes that appear as tears. For many, the opening theme is an excruciatingly sad piece of music. It is heartbreak as expressed in notes and chords.

Schindlerjuden or Schindler’s Jews at his grave site in Israel. Schindler is the only member of the Nazi Party to be granted a honorary citizenship by the State of Israel.

One of the things that Steven Spielberg did with Schindler’s List that helped to make it the great film that it is, concerns how he ended it. It is easy to take a story like the Holocaust and to wallow in the tragedy of it all. Make no mistake, the Holocaust was as horrific as a story can be. However, Spielberg knew that the counterbalance of horror and loss is hope. Spielberg knew and author Keneally knew and Schindlerjuden, Pfefferberg knew that unrelenting pain is unbearable, and that to simply pound audiences over the head with gore and pain would cause them to turn away in the end, which is the opposite of the “Never Forget” philosophy. So, at the end of the movie we get to meet those who have survived. We meet the Schindlerjuden. The importance of ending Schindler’s List in this fashion is to show the extent of the good that Oskar Schindler did in protecting as many Jews as he was able to in Krakow. Each one of those people who survived went on to do something with their lives that would not have happened if not for Schindler’s intervention. Some survivors turned out to become doctors and artists and teachers…most became parents of children who would never have been born without the help of Oskar Schindler. The power of helping out in times of trouble is shown in a way that makes a narrator’s voiceover explanation unnecessary. When there is Hope, there is Life. The Schindlerjuden are the proof of that.

In the world in which we all live, each person is worthy of life. This was true back in the 1930s, and yet much of the world turned a blind eye to genocide as it played out in Europe. It remains true in the 2020s. The story of the Holocaust is an important story to keep retelling, not just because of how it affected Jewish people. It is an important reminder that our history is replete with instances of groups of people being targeted for abuse and/or extermination because it suits the political agenda of others to do so. One need look no further than to cases of Pro-Nazism being on the rise around the world, including in my own country of Canada. Anti-semitic attacks are rising in lockstep. The times appear to be approaching a danger point once again. The importance of never forgetting has never been more relevant than it is right now. As much as I admire what Oskar Schindler did for the Jewish people in Krakow, Poland, I would rather that we all live in a world where such valour is not required at all. Instead, let’s strive for a world in which we would live in societies built upon the premise that all lives are worthy, and then live our lives by treating each other accordingly. That is my Hope.

The link to the video for the composition “Opening Theme: Schindler’s List” by John Williams from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of the film Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the movie Schindler’s List can be found here.

The link to the Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to preserving the stories of those who experienced the Holocaust, can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Oskar Schindler Museum in Krakow, Poland can be found here.

The link to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio ft. L.V. from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film, Dangerous Minds.

The man who started it all…Johann Sebastian Bach, composer of Prelude in C minor for piano.

Over 300 years ago, Johann Sebastian Bach composed a little piece for piano or lute that went by the title, “Prelude in C minor”. Of all of the music he composed over the course of his lifetime, the “Prelude in C minor” is well-regarded and is regularly included in lists of the best preludes Bach composed. Johann Sebastian Bach, the composer, lived on until the 1750s but his music lives on forever. Proof of this is the fact that Bach’s prelude is the opening link in a chain of musical and personal connections that bring us to today’s song, Gangsta’s Paradise” by rapper Coolio. Let’s connect the dots, shall we?

Stevie Wonder playing the violin….seriously! From Songs in the Key of Life, this is the first known use of synthesizers to recreate a full violin ensemble.

Two hundred and fifty years after “Prelude in C minor” was created by Bach, another unbelievably talented young man was searching for inspiration for a new album he was putting together. In the mid-1970s, Stevie Wonder was arguably the most talented and prolific musician in the world. From his early days at Motown as “Little Stevie Wonder” who would headline the Motown Reviews along with Motown’s stable of other stars, Stevie Wonder’s musical career had evolved right before our eyes. By the time the middle of the decade rolled around, Stevie Wonder was enjoying a string of success not seen since Elvis and The Beatles hit the stage. By 1975, Wonder had had four consecutive strong albums, three of which reached #1 (Talking Book, Innervisions and Fulfillingness’ First Finale plus, Music of my Mind, which reached #4). At this point, Stevie Wonder engaged in contract negotiations with Motown. He was threatening to quit music altogether and become a missionary in Africa. Motown buckled. Wonder was given a contract valued at close to 37 million dollars and, just as importantly, he won the right to exercise full creative control over what appeared on his albums. After the acrimony of the contract negotiations, Wonder asked for a year off to recharge and reorient his passions. As the year went on, Wonder began writing again. His vision for his career was as an ambassador for the downtrodden, the weak, the lonely, the unloved and those pushed to the margins of society. At the end of that sabbatical year, Stevie Wonder returned with an album that critics have hailed as one of the most magnificent albums ever recorded in the whole history of modern music…Songs In The Key Of Life. While songs such as “Sir Duke”, “Knocks Me Off My Feet” and “Isn’t She Lovely?” emerged as the hit singles from this album, there was another song that was inspired by a piece of music that was two and a half centuries old. “Pastime Paradise” borrows the chord structure of the opening eight notes of Bach’s “Prelude in C minor” but, instead of piano, Wonder used a synthesizer to mimic a full orchestra of violin players. It was the first use of a synthesizer in this manner. Normally, a song uses a drum beat to establish the rhythm or beat of a song. For Stevie Wonder, he used the synthesizer to create the beat. Nestled amid a selection of songs that spoke to social justice, “Pastime Paradise” speaks to the importance of a positive attitude and a strong work ethic in achieving goals that might lift someone out of poverty, for example. The song denigrates those who champion materialism and possessiveness. Songs in the Key of Life may be rated as Stevie Wonder’s masterpiece but it wasn’t his last work. Wonder wrote many more albums in the 40 plus years that have followed and is still a respected and revered figure in the world of music and in life, in general.

LouAnne Johnson as she looked in the 1970s when she was a member of the US military and was stationed at Clark Air Force Base in The Philippines.

While Stevie Wonder was putting the finishing touches on Songs in the Key of Life, a lady named LouAnne Johnson was enlisting in the US military. Johnson was posted to Clark Air Force Base in The Philippines. While there, Johnson took university level courses and ended up with an Honours degree in Psychology. Upon leaving the military, Johnson decided to become a teacher. Much to her surprise, her very first application was accepted and she was given a job in a high school in California. Unbeknownst to Johnson at the time, this high school was located in an inner city neighbourhood known for gang violence, drug use, rape, teenage pregnancies, poverty and much more. When Johnson showed up for her first teaching gig, she understood why her application had been accepted so quickly by school board officials. Finding teachers who were willing to work in this school had been a challenge. FInding teachers who would stay was an even bigger challenge. Well, not only did LouAnne Johnson fulfill the terms of her teaching contract, her students thrived. She wrote about her experiences in a book called, My Posse Don’t Do Homework. This book was a hit and ended up being turned into a movie called, Dangerous Minds. Michele Pfeiffer played Johnson in the film. Dangerous Minds grossed almost $200 million dollars during its run but much of what drove the success of the movie came from the soundtrack and, in particular, a song called “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio ft. L.V.

This would be Coolio and L.V and those would be Grammy Awards for “Gangsta’s Paradise” that they are holding.

In the links below, I will have a spot for you to listen to Stevie Wonder’s song, “Pastime Paradise”. I encourage you to give it a listen, even if you only do so for the opening thirty seconds or so. If you do give “Pastime Paradise” a listen and then give Coolio’s song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” a similar airing, you will see that Coolio basically sampled the core of Wonder’s synthesized rhythm track. The two songs have an almost identical musical structure. So similar are the songs that Stevie Wonder was given a song writing credit on “Gangsta’s Paradise”. As a further condition of allowing Coolio to sample his work, Wonder put down a clause that was important to him…no profanity allowed! Thus, “Gangsta’s Paradise” is one of the very few hit Hip Hop songs that uses lyrics that are completely clean. The fact that profanity is absent does not detract from the power of the message contained within this song nor does it impact Coolio’s powerful oration. He raps his way through “Gangsta’s Paradise” with passion and emotion, almost as if his life depended on him getting these lyrics said aloud. Coolio has stated that he was well aware of the song’s historical connections, with Stevie Wonder, as well as with the gospel-tinged nature of the music that gives it a religious fervor. “Gangsta’s Paradise” was the #1 selling song in the US the year it was released in 1995. It won the Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance, as well as a host of other awards.

From Johann Sebastian Bach to Stevie Wonder’s seminal album, Songs in the Key of Life to 1995’s Song of the Year, “Gangsta’s Paradise”, the musical dots are connected. It is amazing to think of how an eight chord progression created almost three centuries ago would be the catalyst for a hit Hip Hop song in 1995 that was created as a result of the life story of one of America’s first female marines, LouAnne Johnson that was made into a hit movie starring Michele Pfeiffer. But, that’s how it all lined up. Historical dominos do not always fall quickly but, in the end, fall they do.

The link to the video for the song, “Prelude in C minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Pastime Paradise” by Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio, ft. L.V., as sung on the Billboard Music Awards show with Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Gangsta’s Paradise” sung a capella by Coolio and L.V. on the Howard Stern Radio Show can be found here. ***For what it is worth, I think this is an awesome live version. What a voice Collio had! This is a home run performance for sure. ***Lyrics version of “Gangsta’s Paradise” can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the movie, Dangerous Minds can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stevie Wonder can be found here.

The link to the official website for LouAnne Johnson can be found here.

The link to the official website for Coolio can be found here.

***FYI: Coolio passed away just recently. This post was created in his memory. #RIP

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Cavalleria Rusticana (Intermezzo) by Pietro Mascagni…Composition #18/50: Keepin’ It Classy.

Cavalleria Rusticana (intermezzo) for violin by Pietro Mascagni.

If you have a heart that beats then the intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s opera Cavalleria Rusticana will fill it with sadness or with love or both. Many point to this wonderful piece of music as being the saddest, as well as the most beautiful composition ever written. As well as holding a special place in the annals of Italian opera history, the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana always holds a prominent place in the world of cinema. What is truly amazing about it all is that this composition was not played during a major portion of the opera from which it draws its name. In fact, the composer, Pietro Mascagni was so unsure of its merits that, at first, he refused to submit it for inclusion in the opera and had intended to throw it away as being unworthy. To Mascagni’s wife, who rescued the composition from within her husband’s desk where it had been hidden, the world owes her a debt of gratitude. For never in the history of classical music has something born of self-doubt given way to becoming such a masterpiece. Here is the story of the world’s most famous intermezzo, Cavalleria Rusticana.

Composer Pietro Mascagni.

Pietro Mascagni was just a young man in his twenties when he received word that a competition had been declared to find the best one-act opera in Italy. Mascagni, who had created nothing of note up until this point, was encouraged by his friends and family to put together an entry. So, with the help of two friends who created the libretto (the hand book given to audiences that explained the story of the opera as it unfolded on stage in song), Mascagni began work on an opera entitled Cavalleria Rusticana. Work by Mascagni on the musical score happened in fits and starts and with the deadline for entries fast approaching, he grew anxious and began to question the worth of his own material. It was during these final weeks that Mascagni withdrew the intermezzo he had written as being unworthy. His young wife, Lina, had listened to the intermezzo as it was being developed and thought it was incredibly moving. So, unbeknownst to Mascagni, she retrieved the forsaken composition and brought it to the attention of the librettists who, knowing more about opera than she did at the time, confirmed for her its worth. They, in turn, responded to Mascagni by insisting that the intermezzo be re-inserted into the opera. They even wrote a special scene specifically for it. In the end, Mascagni relented. The intermezzo was put back into his opera and, once completed, the entire opera was submitted on time for judging in the competition.

As it turned out, one of the main sources for Mascagni’s lack of confidence in his own work was due to the innovative nature of its theme. Italian opera had a long history of celebrating God and/or royalty. So, when Mascagni created an opera based upon the lives of ordinary people, it seemed completely unthinkable that such subject matter would ever be deemed as being appropriate for the great opera stages of Italy. But, the uniqueness of the storyline was what struck the judges. Cavalleria Rusticana’s story was, at the time, a completely fresh and original take on what an opera could be. In fact, it ushered in a style of opera known as verismo or “realistic” operas. Shortly thereafter, the sub-genre of verismo operas was solidified with the creation of the classic opera, Pagliacci. But, Cavalleria Rusticana came first and will always be noted for changing the face of Italian opera forever.

As the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana plays, the men prepare to duel and the towns folk gather, the scorned women comfort each other.

The title, Cavalleria Rusticana means “rustic chivalry” or, simply, the bravery of the common folk. In the opera (which was taken from a play of the same name by a writer named Giovanni Verga), Mascagni spins a one act yarn about mistaken love involving two men and two women. The story ends with one of the men taking out a vendetta against the other for an act of betrayal. Just as the two men prepare for their duel to the death, the intermezzo is performed. In operatic terms, an intermezzo is essentially an intermission or a filler scene that is placed between two other main scenes in order to provide a bit of comic relief or to allow a more minor character to add an extra layer of meaning and detail to the story through a plot device such as an aside. Intermezzos, by nature, are not usually that lengthy. So, while the two men prepare to duel, the towns folk gather, the scorned women talk and the full nature of the betrayal is made clear for all to see. All the while, Mascagni’s intermezzo plays on. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, what Mascagni first thought was unworthy turned out to be a work of incredible beauty. The intermezzo’s score was so touching that the first audiences to witness the opera were said to have jumped to their feet in rapturous applause. The emotional meaning being conveyed through Mascagni’s music enriched the drama that was unfolding on stage and brought it to a level that touched the hearts of all who heard it. While not the first example of a musical score being used to amplify the drama inherent in a story, the intermezzo for Cavalleria Rusticana is often held up as the gold standard by many other creative talents, as we shall soon see.

Just one of the great films made better for having incorporated Mascagni’s intermezzo into its soundtrack.

While Mascagni was changing the world of Italian opera forever with his courageous decision to make opera more accessible and realistic in the eyes of ordinary citizens, the impact of his bravery has rippled out throughout the centuries and can be seen in how the intermezzo was used in two very famous Hollywood movies. First of all, we have well known director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese is of Italian descent and was raised in a household that valued Italian culture. That culture included Italian opera. So, it was in an atmosphere of respect, pride and patriotism that he first heard Mascagni’s intermezzo played in his house as a child. The story of how Mascagni changed the nature of how stories were told on stage resonated with Scorsese. As Scorsese grew up and began to show an interest and an inclination toward filmmaking, the example set by Mascagni sat as a major influence. Thus, it was to the surprise of no one who knew him that Scorcese eventually came to incorporate Mascagni’s intermezzo into one of his own most famous films, Raging Bull. In Scorsese’s masterful hands, his movie opens with a scene of boxer Ray Lamotta alone in a ring. He is warming up for a fight. He is a solitary figure about to put his life on the line while the crowd cheers for each blow landed and received. All the while Lamotta’s character moves, Mascagni’s intermezzo plays. There is no other sound except for this beautiful music designed to describe with notes, a sense of courage summoned in the face of possible death. Many who watched this Academy Award winning film point to this opening scene as setting the rich tone for the entire movie and giving it the emotional heft it maintained throughout. Mascagni’s intermezzo was also used in the closing scene of another Italian-themed movie of note, Godfather-III. In that scene, Al Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, suffers an unthinkable loss as his daughter is killed in an attempt on his own life. To hold his dying daughter in his arms, while the intermezzo played, brought audiences to understand the full circle of a life lived in the Mafia. It is to know the most profound love and the most profound sadness at the same time. *I will play both scenes in the links to follow at the end of this post.

It is not always easy to be different. There is a certain comfort in not drawing attention to yourself by taking a path in life that is well trodden by others who have preceded you. It is much more difficult to create your own path. I feel that it was understandable for Mascagni to feel that lack of confidence that he did. As all creative types feel at one time or another, who are we to value our own thoughts to such a high degree? For Mascagni, who was only allowed entry into the opera competition because it was open for novice composers, to defy convention took great courage, indeed. It took cavalleria rusticana, as it turned out. I think it also goes to show the importance of having a network of support around you in life. If it had not been for the efforts of his young wife and his libretto-writing friends, Mascagni may have never had the faith in himself that he needed in order to complete his work and then, to actually submit it for scrutiny by judges who had a long tenure in the Italian opera community to which he was seeking to join. One never knows when something you do will change the world in a profound way but that was certainly the case for Pietro Mascagni and his intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, which many call the most beautiful composition ever created. Thank goodness for those who opt for the path less trodden.

The link to the video for the composition, Cavalleria Rusticana (Intermezzo) can be found here.

The link to the opening scene from the movie, Raging Bull, can be seen here.

The link to the closing scene from the movie, Godfather-III can be found here.

The link to the official website for Pietro Mascagni can be found here.

The link to the best classical music radio station in the world…Classical 103.1…broadcasting out of my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Man of Constant Sorrow by Blind Dick Burnett from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou.

O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a movie that was released in the year 2000. It was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen Brothers have a long history of producing movies that are quirky and innovative, with memorable characters and great scenes. They have directed The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, one of my personal favourites, Barton Fink (which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival), Inside Llewyn Davis and the Academy Award winning, No Country For Old Men and Fargo. Needless to say, these talented men know how to put together a movie that resonates with critics and regular movie audiences alike. They do this partly by being students of literature and cinema. There is no clearer example of this than O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The movie stars Goerge Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three convicts who have escaped from a chain gang in the southern US and head off on a journey to find buried treasure. Along the way, the trio are faced with numerous challenges, meet a wide variety of interesting, dangerous and/or mysterious characters and, as is often the case, wind up changed as humans by the end of the story. That O Brother, Where Art Thou? uses the old storytelling strategy of having a physical journey tell the story of a personal journey doesn’t make it unique among movies. There are a whole host of movies that use this storytelling device to tell their tale. What makes the Coen Brothers’ take so unique is that they have based their movie on the original story of a journey….the epic poem, The Odyssey by Homer. Without going into too much detail, The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer are considered two of the most important works of literature in all of human history. In both cases, Homer became one of the very first people ever to tell an epic tale in written form. For the sake of this post, let’s take a very quick look at The Odyssey and see how it inspired the Coen Brothers in their making of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Sirens attempt to seduce Odysseus and his men in a scene from Homer’s The Odyssey, just as they do to George Clooney and his compadres in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, the King of Ithaca. In this story, Odysseus fights for ten years in The Trojan War and then, once the war is over, the story follows him and his men as they struggle for ten more years to get back home. Along the way, Odysseus and his men encounter interesting, dangerous and/or mysterious characters such as the Cyclops and the Sirens. Because it takes Odyesseus two decades to get back to his home, his wife, Penelope, has assumed that he has been killed and has sought to go on with her life. This includes remarrying. So, part of the story of The Odyssey involves scenes in which Penelope deals with various suitors who are asking for her hand in marriage. All the while, Odysseus is struggling, straining and battling his way back home to be with her as well. For O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the Coen Brothers have made almost a scene by scene updated adaptation of The Odyssey. George Clooney plays the Odysseus character. Holly Hunter plays the role of Penelope. John Goodman plays a KKK Bible salesman who has only one eye (Cyclops). John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson play characters based upon Odysseus’ lieutenants. Singers Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris play a trio of singers who attempt to seduce and rob our escapees (the Sirens). As it turns out, just as Odysseus journeyed to return to his one true love, Penelope, so George Clooney does the same to be with his true love, Holly Hunter. He ends up discovering that true treasure does not necessarily come in gold and silver form.

Writer/Director, Preston Sturges. The Coen Brothers got the title for their movie from a scene in his 1940 movie, Sullivan’s Travels.

In a further tip of the cinematic hat, the Coen Brothers named their film after a scene in another movie about the Great Depression and the southern US called Sullivan’s Travels. This movie was directed by Preston Sturges. In the movie, there was a character who wanted to direct a movie called O Brother, Where Art Thou? about the reality of life for ordinary folks in the South. Not only did the Coen Brothers get the title for their movie from the Sturges film but another draw was the fact that Preston Sturges paved the way for them to make movies like they do. Sturges was one of the very first people in Hollywood to create their own original screenplays and then direct these screenplays and make them into a movie. At the time that Preston Sturges was making history in the 1930s and 40s, it was common practice for screenwriters and directors to be separate people. But, as Sturges proved, one person could fill both roles just as the Coen Brothers are proving that today with the films they write and produce.

Dan Tyminski is a member of the band, Alison Krauss and Union Station. Dan is the real singer of “A Man of Constant Sorrow” in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

As is the case with all good directors, the Coen Brothers are known for their attention to detail. An example of that is how they used music throughout O Brother, Where Art Thou? First of all, all of the music contained in the original motion picture soundtrack is historically accurate to the time and location where the movie takes place. I have often used the phrase “woven into the fabric of society” to describe instances where a song ceases to just be a piece of music that exists in isolation and, instead becomes integrated completely into the environment in which it is being played. This is the case with the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? This movie is set in the Appalachian region of the US which includes Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi and so on. The period in history the movie is describing is the 1930s. At that time in the Appalachian region of the southern US, Bluegrass and American traditional folk music was the popular style of music among ordinary people. In both styles of music, harmonies play a big role when singing. The instruments used tended to be fiddles, banjos, pianos and acoustic guitars. In fact, as was the case in the Maritime provinces of Canada, there were a great many immigrants who settled along the US seaboard who originally came from England, Scotland and Ireland. When they arrived, they brought many of their customs and traditions with them. When it came to music, they brought fiddles and guitars. It is claimed that banjos originated from slaves. In any case, over time, music took on a flavour of its own in the Appalachian region and, as a result, Bluegrass and Traditional American Folk music came to be. So, for the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, all of the music reflects the culture of the time and location of the movie. The most popular song to come from the soundtrack is a centuries old song called “Man of Constant Sorrow”. No one knows who originally wrote this tale of woe and perseverance but the first person to be credited with recording a published version of the song was a bling guitarist from the South called Blind Dick Bennett. As is the case with many folk songs and spirituals from the distant past, there have been many recordings of this song by all manner of singers such as Bob Dylan and Ginger Baker, all the way through a host of local Appalachian singers who covered the song because it has cultural meaning to them. For the movie, George Clooney and his gang lip sync their way through the song while on stage. The real voices belong to members of Alison Krauss’ band, Union Station. Specifically, the lead vocals are sung by Dan Tyminski. Because of the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, there has been a resurgence in appreciation among fans and fellow musicians when it comes to Bluegrass music. In fact, modern bands such as Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, etc., use the same instruments and harmonize in the same manner when singing as do those who sing on the soundtrack that the Coen Brothers put together. Taking it one step further, electronic dance music super DJ, Avicii, even recorded an EDM-inspired tune called, “Hey Brother” that was taken directly from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“A Man of Constant Sorrow” won the Grammy Award for Country Single of the Year and the soundtrack album won for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards, as well as at the Country Music Association Awards. I guess it just goes to show that when you are respectful of your roots, whether it be in music, cinema or storytelling that good things often end up being the result. If you have any comments about O Brother, Where Art Thou? or any of the other Coen Brothers movies, feel free to let me know in the comment box below. Thanks for taking the time to read my words. I appreciate having you stop by.

The link to the video for the song, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” from the original motion picture soundtrack of the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

The link to the video for the official movie trailer for O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Go To Sleep Little Baby” from the original motion picture soundtrack of the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Spirit of Radio by Rush…Song 19/250: The Great Canadian Road Trip.

Rush: Neil Peart, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson.

Rush was a rock n’ roll band out of Toronto. They are composed of bassist/keyboardist/lead singer, Geddy Lee, guitarist, Alex Lifeson and drummer extraordinaire, Neil Peart. Rush formed in 1968 and played as a trio right up until 2018, when drummer Neil Peart passed away. For their career, Rush ranked third (trailing only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones) in terms of the number of consecutive Gold records they achieved. In all, Rush produced 24 Gold records, 14 of which went on to achieve Platinum status. They sold over 40 million records worldwide and were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. They are generally considered to be the best rock band to come from Canada and one of the top ten rock bands in the entire history of rock n’ roll.

For the first decade of their career, Rush were known more as a Prog Rock band. They were lumped in with other such bands as Pink Floyd, early Genesis, Yes and so on. Many of the songs on their earliest albums exceeded ten minutes in length each. The themes of their music often lay in the realm of fantasy, myth and legend. Because of the nature of their music, the members of Rush were often allowed to showcase their musical virtuosity by indulging in long drum and/or guitar solos which then led to tightly woven sonic tapestries created by three men who tended to sound like many more. Rush had a very dedicated fan base and could have spent their whole career creating epic Prog Rock masterpieces if they so desired. However, rock bands, like the fans who adore them, do not exist in a vacuum. There is a world of innovation and change that goes on and quite often those changes wash up upon the shores of even the most successful of artists. And so it was that the members of Rush made the decision to tweak their creative formula slightly and try to produce some songs that were more “radio-friendly”. Some fans cried that doing so was selling out but Rush had some very pragmatic reasons for making a mid-career course correction. Here is the story of why Rush moved slightly away from Prog Rock. It all begins with the nature of radio at the time.

Up until the early 1970s, home radio operated on an AM frequency. But, as the 1970s rolled along, the FM frequency started to become more in demand by the public. The reason for this has to do with the nature of how radio waves are broadcast and received. In very simple terms, radio waves are like x-rays or light waves. They are not the same as sound waves. Sound waves are waves that alter the pattern of the air around us. They hit our eardrums in a certain manner, our brain decodes the vibrations and tells us what we are hearing. Radio waves, on the other hand, do not cause ripples in the air. Our ears cannot detect radio waves. In fact, there are radio waves all around you as you read these words but, just like light waves or x-rays, our human bodies are not equipped to receive radio waves. To do that, we need a transmitter and a receiver. Therefore, in most homes and cars, we have radio receivers present. These receivers are built to detect the radio waves being broadcast by radio stations from their tall towers or else, their satellite dishes. Each radio station broadcasts at a certain frequency along the AM or FM band so, by letting listeners know what the frequency is, we can tune our radio receivers accordingly and pick up the signal. That signal is then played through speakers that we have and is turned into sound waves that we can hear with our ears.

Now, prior to the 1970s, most home radio receivers were built to receive AM radio waves only. An AM radio wave is different from an FM radio wave in many ways but the most important difference is that AM radio waves are “taller” and cover more ground. FM waves are wider or broader and operate on a higher frequency range. In basic terms, you can hear an AM radio station from a greater distance but the sound quality will be more tin-like and shallow. An FM station’s signal doesn’t cover as much geographic ground but the quality of the sound is richer and deeper. From a business perspective, it was more cost effective to broadcast on the AM band because fewer stations were needed to cover the land. Thus, companies that produced home radio did so with AM dials and tuners pre-installed. For a while AM radio was the de facto method used when people spoke of radio.

When I grew up in the 1970s, our main radio stations were all AM stations. There was a good mix of news, talk radio programmes and music in those days. AM stations indulged in more talk radio style programmes because the sound quality of what was being broadcast was not as important as the content of what was being broadcast. So, two people debating the news of the day did not require stereo sound quality. As a result, I grew up (like most people) not even knowing that the stereo sounding quality of FM radio even existed. But, for a band such as Rush (who were making a name for themselves at the exact same time as I was listening to AM radio in my kitchen back home), the quality of their sound was extremely important to them. They wanted the sound quality of their live concert performances to be replicated for their audiences at home. However, the tinny quality of AM radio’s sound didn’t do that for Rush. So, throughout the 1970s, Rush concentrated on their live shows and their record albums. They poured their creative hearts into producing the most intricate and elaborate sound experience possible, using the technology that they had available at the time.

This is a retro AM/FM radio receiver. For any kids out there, note the large tuning knob. To access a radio station, you would rotate the tuning knob left or right. Doing so would move the long white line back and forth. As you passed various numbers, sounds from radio stations would pop up and you could decide to stay there and keep listening or else, keeping moving that dial. In a nutshell, that’s how radio worked back in my childhood days.

But a funny thing happened in the world of radio broadcasting as the 1970s unfolded. A few FM radio stations began broadcasting in larger cities. These stations began attracting new listeners who were excited by the richer, deeper sound quality they were able to achieve. Initially, FM radio was the haven of audiophiles who possessed great sound systems in their own homes and cars. It wasn’t music for the masses just yet. But, like all things that become popular, the business world began to take note. As the demand for radio receivers with FM capabilities began to grow, companies stepped up their production. Soon, the per unit price of an AM/FM radio began to drop, making it more affordable to the average consumer. Before too long, sales of FM radio receivers equaled AM receivers and then, in jig time, they surpassed them. FM radio had become a commercially viable broadcasting alternative. Artists and bands such as Rush took note. With the ability of listeners at home to hear their music as they had intended it to be heard, bands such as Rush took to these brave new airwaves with their music.

One of the most attractive features of FM radio in the early days for bands such as Rush was that FM radio was a relatively uncommercialized soundscape. FM DJs had much more freedom to programme the music that was played and, as such, they were able to play long form songs by bands such as Rush without fear that playing a twenty-minute song was taking away from air time that could be spent broadcasting commercial advertisements. FM radio was, initially, broadcast in a way that was wide open. Any kind of musical taste was indulged. New bands and artists were allowed to be played. A regional FM station was allowed to reflect the Arts scene from the area they were broadcasting from without worrying if folks in other parts of the country got what they were doing and why it was important.. There were lots of live, in-studio performances, too. But again, like all things that start to become popular and gain a following, the eyes of the business world gazed longingly upon that FM broadcast real estate and slowly, but surely, the world of FM radio began to become standardized and commercialized.

CFNY-FM…the Toronto-based FM radio station upon which the song, “Spirit of Radio” by Rush is based.

It was as this transitory process was happening that Rush decided to enter the fray and make a statement of solidarity with those who believed FM radio should be more open and free. They did this in the form of an album called Moving Pictures and a song called “Spirit of Radio”. Although it never mentions this by name, “Spirit of Radio” is dedicated to radio station CFNY-FM in Toronto. When I first arrived in Toronto for university, it was CFNY-FM (102.1 on the radio dial) that always seemed to be playing the newest and most vibrant music. It was on CFNY-FM that I first heard bands such as Joy Division, Yaz, The Cure, Depeche Mode, along with local Toronto area bands such as Constantines, Breeding Ground, Rough Trade and so on. If I wanted The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, I could tune into Q107 for my classic rock needs. But, for more modern takes on the expanding music world around me, it was always CFNY-FM that I went to. Their slogan was “CFNY: the Spirit of Radio”.

So, Rush wrote their song called, “Spirit of Radio”. It is a love letter to CFNY-FM, thanking them for operating in a manner that supported new and innovative artists and bands. The second half of the song is a lament for the growing standardization of the medium. It is this standardization of decision making based upon profits and revenue streams, rather than artistic merit, that Rush believed would end up killing radio as a medium for meaningful music distribution. In fact, Neil Peart, who wrote the ending of the song by borrowing from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”, when he mentions that the “words of the profits were written on the studio walls, concert halls”, along with the derisive line about “the sounds of salesmen”. “Spirit of Radio” went on to become one of Rush’s most popular and enduring songs. It remained a fixture of concert setlists throughout the remainder of their career.

Pink Floyd’s iconic album cover for “Dark Side of the Moon”. It is meant to show that radio waves are the same as light waves and as well, that AM radio waves are so small compared to the brand, rich radio waves of FM radio.

I will conclude with a couple of bits of trivia for you. If you want to get a sense of what FM radio meant to artists such as Rush and their compatriots such as PInk Floyd and Yes, take a look at the iconic album cover for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The image of light entering a prism and exploding in a rainbow on the other side is a visual depiction of FM radio. It shows how ordinary AM quality sound actually had so many deeper, richer tones embedded within it, awaiting release. FM radio was that release. As well, in the late 1970s, Hollywood released a movie about FM radio called, imaginatively enough “FM”. The gist of the movie had the staff at one of these early, independent FM stations trying to hold back the forces of commercialization. Lots of great artists and bands appeared in the movie (such as Tom Petty in the video I will share with you below). The theme song “FM” was written by Steely Dan and mentions attributes of this new medium such as “no static at all”. This soundtrack is one of my favourite movie soundtracks ever. Great 70s music throughout! Finally, for the video listed below for “Spirit of Radio” by Rush, I am going to use the very important performance that they gave in 2003 in Toronto at the SARsFest Benefit concert at Downsview Park. Last week, I played a clip of Sam Roberts Band opening this concert festival. *(You can read that post here). Today, we will have hometown heroes, Rush, delivering a blistering performance of the classic tune, “Spirit of Radio”. One thing to note about it as you watch is how the song is constructed. Alex Lifeson has stated that the song is structured to replicate the idea of tuning a radio. He says that the original guitar solo that starts off the songs is meant to act as the static that typified AM radio. He says the smoother sections are to indicate the FM stations. This includes the brief trip the band takes into Reggae in the middle of the song. So, not only is the song about radio, it is designed to function like radio, too. It is attention to detail such as this that has helped make Rush one of the greatest bands of all time!

The link to the video for the song, “Spirit of Radio” by Rush can be found here.

***The lyrics version can be found here.

***Note: this particular video starts with Rush playing a bit of “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones. They did this as a Thank You to the band for headlining the SARsFest concert.

The link to the official website for Rush can be found here.

The link to the scene from the movie “FM” in which Tom Petty appears and the station programmer argues with his bosses about commercials can be found here.

The link to the official website for CFNY-FM (which is now called “102.1 TheEdge.ca) can be found here.

The link to the official website for the city of Toronto can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog can be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas: Composition #17/50…Keepin’ It Classy.

In today’s post we are going to talk about the classic tale of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. For many of you, when I mention this story title, you are probably taken back to that famous segment of Walt Disney’s film, Fantasia, which stars Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who wages a losing battle against some magical mops because he had used a magic spell to get his work done instead of doing the work himself. If this is the image that you have then congratulations because what Walt Disney ended up doing with Fantasia was very innovative and important. We will talk about that in greater detail below. But first, did you know that the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is over 225 years old?! In fact, there have been three major iterations of this story spread liberally over those two and a quarter centuries. Each iteration was unique to the others, each was revolutionary at the time of its debut and each was extremely well-received by critics and public audiences, too. So, let’s travel back in time to 1797 and to Germany, where the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice truly begins.

The original author of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

In 1797, one of the world’s great thinkers, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was busy writing and speaking on matters of philosophy, politics, literature, music, religion, botany and much more. Goethe’s ideas ended up becoming some of the foundational precepts that have guided the development of western civilization. His novels are listed among the most important and influential in history. He is revered as a mentor to famed philosophers such as Hegel, Schopenhauer, Neitzsche and Carl Jung. In the field of The Arts, Goethe was acknowledged as a master of literary criticism and review, as well as that of classical music compositions by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler. Goethe was also a poet. In 1797, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a fourteen stanza poem entitled Dar Zauberlehrling. In English, we know the title as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The apprentice casts his spell. Goethe version.

Goethe’s poem tells the tale of a sorcerer who leaves the cleaning of his workshop to his young apprentice. Before going, the sorcerer leaves strict instructions with the apprentice to not touch any of the magical equipment that was located throughout the workshop and, most importantly of all, not to open the sorcerer’s spellbook and say any spells out loud. The sorcerer leaves the apprentice to his chores and exits the workshop. The apprentice gets to work but soon tires of his chores. Seeking an easy way out of having to do his work, the apprentice disobeys the sorcerer by opening his spellbook to look for a spell that would cause magic to do the work for him. The apprentice discovers a spell that he thinks might work for him. He states the spell aloud. Before he knows it, the mop begins to work on its own but, in doing so, it works too quickly and makes an even bigger mess. The apprentice panics because he does not know how to undo the spell and so he attempts to break the mop in half in order to stop it. But, breaking the mop actually causes new mops to spring up from the broken pieces. Now there are multiple mops all working frantically, much to the chagrin of the apprentice. In despair, the apprentice cries aloud for help. His cries are heard by the sorcerer who was returning to his shop. The sorcerer is able to stop the mops, undo the spell and save his workshop from further damage. The apprentice learns a valuable lesson in the process which is that if you want a job done well then do it right the first time. The life lesson contained in Dar Zauberlehrling resonated with German audiences who recognized that Goethe was using his poem to set out some rules for living a good and honourable life. This particular lesson spoke to the industrious nature of the German people and, as such this poem and the lesson it contained quickly became part of the fabric of German society.

The symphonic poem created by French composer, Paul Dukas, as seen in a version played in later years by The New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

For 100 years, Dar Zauberlehrling by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was the definitive version that the world knew. But then, someone gazed upon this story with new eyes and came up with a completely original take on Goethe’s classic tale. In 1897, a French composer named Paul Dukas began creating works that he called “symphonic poems”. In simple terms, what Dukas decided to do was to create a musical score to accompany famous poems, speeches and dramatic scenes from plays. In this instance, he created a short symphony in which his notes and chords acted as the words of the poem. His music told the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in dramatic crescendos and quiet lulls. Dukas created a libretto to go with his symphony. *(A libretto was like a theatrical programme or small book that was given to audience members. For The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Dukas wrote out the words to Goethe’s poem so that audience members could follow the “action” and understand why his music rose and fell as it did). While the scoring of written works was not originated by Dukas, his version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a huge hit and became the gold standard by which other musical scores were measured. In fact, the score for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice became the most popular work that Paul Dukas managed in his lifetime.

Mickey Mouse as the apprentice who casts his own unfortunate spell from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as seen in the Walt Disney movie, Fantasia.

Fast forward to the 1930s. Walt Disney was at the forefront of a new technology called movie animation. Instead of using film in the traditional way that was used in Hollywood, Disney and his team of animators had perfected a way of turning thousands of drawings or cells into a form of moving picture as well. In the late 1920s, Disney unveiled one of the first animated short features in the world. It was called “Steamboat Willie” and featured a character that came to be known as Mickey Mouse. Disney’s innovation struck a chord with the general public. Encouraged by the positive reception “Steamboat Willie” had, Disney and his team decided to reach higher and to go further than any animator had ever done before. This resulted in full length animated movies such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, along with Sleeping Beauty. When audiences saw these new movies, Mickey Mouse drifted into the background in terms of popularity. But Walt Disney was a loyal man and had a soft spot in his heart for the character that allowed his creative dreams to come true. So, Disney decided to create something original as a vehicle to rejuvenate Mickey Mouse’s image. The idea that Walt Disney had was to create a short movie that would be part of a series called “Silly Symphonies”. In this short movie, Disney decided to attempt something that hadn’t been done before…he wanted to pair animation with established pieces of classical music. For Mickey Mouse’s short movie, Walt Disney chose the Paul Dukas score of Goethe’s story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As the animation was filmed, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra played the Dukas score. Soon, the fully scored, animated short movie that became known as Walt Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice was complete. The only problem was that by the time they were finished, Disney was over budget. Way over budget. He was informed by his accountants that there was no way he would ever recoup his investment because the audience for short films was dwindling. Disney’s success with Snow White had changed viewing habits. Audiences now expected longer, more detailed stories. Cursed by his own success, Walt Disney had two choices: abandon “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” or else, use it as part of something longer…something more in keeping with a full length movie. As we know, Walt Disney stuck to his creative guns and, instead of placing his short film in a warehouse to be forgotten, he went ahead and created eight other “Silly Symphonies’ using the same animators and same orchestra. With nine animated scores finished, Walt Disney assembled them all in one unified movie and called it Fantasia.

Walt Disney and the animated character that started it all…Mickey Mouse.

Fantasia was a huge hit with critics and modern audiences alike. It remains one of Disney’s most popular movies even to this day. There are two reasons why Fantasia has come to be regarded as one of Walt Disney’s most important and innovative films. First of all, he accomplished a very important thing by taking classical music out of the concert hall and introducing it to a mass audience who, otherwise would probably never have been exposed to the works of Igor Stravinsky, Johann Sebastian Bach, Tchaikovsky and so on. Secondly, Fantasia caused Mickey Mouse to become a popular character again. In doing so, Mickey Mouse became the “face” of Walt Disney’s world which he envisioned as being much more than simply a movie animation studio. Because of the popularity of Mickey Mouse, Disney World came to be built, whole lines of merchandise were created and sold and much, much more.

The man, himself, Paul Dukas.

Our world is made better because of people with a positive creative vision. All throughout its history, the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has resonated in a way that few stories have. It was first a poem that was used to instill proper human virtues for living a good and proper life. Then, that lesson was taken further a century later by marrying a musical score with a literary work. Half a century after that, the idea was taken a final step further when a literary work with a musical score was provided with animated visuals to aid in the telling of the story. So, read The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as a poem, listen to it as a symphony or watch it as an animated film. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Paul Dukas and Walt Disney have all brought their own brand of genius to bear and we are all the better for it.

The link to the video for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as it appears in the movie, Fantasia, can be found in two parts, here and here.

The link to the official movie trailer for the original 1940 version of Fantasia can be found here.

The link to the official website for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe can be found here.

The link to the official website for Paul Dukas can be found here.

The link to the official website for Walt Disney can be found here.

The link to the classical music station that streams live to the world from my hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, Canada….Classical 103.1 FM….can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com